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U.S. Chopper Crash In Banda Aceh

A U.S. helicopter on a relief mission crashed in a rice paddy 500 yards from the Banda Aceh airport Monday, injuring two of ten servicemen aboard.

As the tsunami relief effort entered its third week, workers in Indonesia are struggling to recover 50,000 bodies the government says are scattered throughout the region.

Schools in Sri Lanka and Indonesia opened for the first time since the Dec. 26 tsunami, but many of the 150,000 lives it claimed were children, and thousands of desks sat empty.

The U.S. military said the Seahawk helicopter "executed a hard landing" and that there was no evidence it was shot down when it crashed near the airport in Banda Aceh, capital of Indonesia's hard-hit Aceh province and the hub of international aid operations. Lt. Cmdr. John M. Daniels blamed the crash on a "possible mechanical failure."

Six of the servicemen had serious injuries and four had minor injuries, Capt. Kendall L. Card, commander of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier stationed off the Indonesian coast, said over the ship's loudspeakers. The worst injury was a dislocated pelvis, he said.

"There was no fire ball but a little smoke. It landed on its side," said Capt. Joe Plenzler, adding that the helicopter's propeller was twisted from the impact.

The crash came amid heightened security concerns in several tsunami-hit areas with ethnic rebellions - particularly in Aceh, where rebels have waged a separatist war in the province for nearly three decades. United Nations staff in Aceh are on high alert, and armed guards patrol their compounds amid fears of rebel attacks.

Aftershocks from the massive earthquake that spawned the killer waves continued to rattle residents in the hardest-hit countries. A 6.2-magnitude temblor sent people scrambling from their homes early Monday in Banda Aceh; no injuries or damage were reported.

Indonesian authorities promised to speed up the grim task of recovering and burying the dead. Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said 58,281 bodies had been buried in the shattered area on the northern tip of Sumatra island. He said some 50,000 more are "scattered" around the region.

Some corpses are still trapped in collapsed buildings and rotting under debris in canals and rivers. Their stench still hangs over some areas of the provincial capital.

In Yanyao, Thailand, authorities are digging up hundreds of bodies buried after the tsunami - in response to suspicions that some of the foreigners who were killed may have been mistakenly identified as Thai nationals in the chaos of the disaster.

To address those concerns, Thai authorities plan to take DNA samples from the exhumed bodies.

Large numbers of Westerners were in Thailand for the Christmas holiday, visiting the country's many beach resorts.

In Sri Lanka, in the latest sign life is slowly returning to normal, children returned to school for the start of the new term - long before many institutions damaged in the disaster can provide proper education. Social workers hope the resumption of studies will help children overcome the trauma of the catastrophe.

About 80 students, some accompanied by their parents, showed up at state-run Vidyaloka, in Galle, Sri Lanka, a tiny fraction of the 2,400 who are registered. Some had no uniforms.

In a rare happy story, a 22-year-old Indonesian, Ari Afrizal, was rescued at sea sometime late last week by the United Arab Emirates-registered AL Yamamah, said Sasheila Paramsothy, a spokeswoman for the shipping harbor Westport Malaysia.

Ari was swept out to sea when the tsunami hit his home in Aceh, Paramsothy said, adding that the ship crew has not provided other details.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is assessing damage in the Maldives, a low-lying string of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean that lost 82 people. The United Nations is now coordinating humanitarian relief efforts in all the countries affected by the disaster and is taking that responsibility "very, very seriously," Annan said.

A senior Navy officer involved in the humanitarian aid mission said the U.S. military is likely to remain in tsunami-devastated areas for an extended time period.

"I don't see an end to this for a long, long time," Capt. Larry Burt said of the American presence on Sumatra island. Burt is the commander of the air wing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

For more than a week, U.S. military helicopters have been rushing food, water and medical supplies to areas inaccessible to other aid worker and in desperate need.

Indonesian military chief Endriartono Sutarto told The Associated Press that his forces are not conducting offensive operations against Acehnese rebels despite reports they've attacked aid convoys and even briefly kidnapped Indonesian relief workers.

Sutarto said the workers were rescued by Indonesian forces but gave no further details.

Indonesia's military warned aid workers Sunday that rebels in Aceh were taking shelter in camps for survivors, but the government dismissed those claims Monday. The government also said rebels were not responsible for a shooting near the main U.N. compound on Sunday, contradicting earlier assertions by the country's military and police.

Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said a troubled Indonesian soldier, not a rebel gunman, was responsible for the burst of gunfire. The soldier was in custody.

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